How to achieve balance in life? That's a question Jessi Cruickshank has been asking herself for years. It's only when she became a working mother that she realized that balance is, in fact, "bullshit," to quote the mom of three.
Cruickshank, a Canadian TV presenter and media personality, has a lot going on. In addition to hosting her iconic New Mom, Who Dis? Facebook Watch series, an outlet for women to share their honest experiences around motherhood with unmatched candour and humour, she is also a passionate activist who devotes her free time to volunteering and raising awareness on a range of issues.
It was therefore only natural that Cruickshank would end up being a part of Global Citizen's Champions of Change program, advocating for sexual health and reproductive rights, climate action, and gender equality. Speaking to Global Citizen from her home in Los Angeles, she says joining the program made her reflect on her commitment to social justice — something that goes all the way back to her childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Her first attempt at rallying people behind a cause was in third grade, when she plastered signs all over her school reminding people not to litter. The irony of using paper to carry an environmental message isn't lost on her; she willingly laughs at the memory, stunned by her determination at that age.
"I took it upon myself to speak up about something important to me and to get the whole school involved," she recalls. "I'm just amazed that I had the impetus to do that. Thinking back, you know, I have kids. I wasn't that much older than them. I marvel at how young I was when I started."
A few years later, she showed the same commitment to supporting kids with special needs who weren't allowed in the drama program she was a part of. A competitive gymnast-turned-engaged theatre student at the time, the injustice of children being singled out from an activity she enjoyed resonated with her.
"I went to the principal. He told me it wouldn't be a good fit, so I took it upon myself to start my program for the people in my school. I taught a lunch-hour drama class on top of everything else in school."
Cruickshank's determination grew as she started to see the impact of her efforts on the community, with parents coming up to her, tears in their eyes, thanking her for being there for their kids.
That first class was the first of many for the comedian, who went on to teach a similar program for people with special needs in Toronto, always with the belief that change happens on a small scale.
"I wasn't out there changing the world, but I was changing the world for one person, and I think that had an equal impact on me because it drove me to continue to do that in all facets of my life," she recalls.
And so she continued to go down that path, devoting her time to non-profit organizations and documentaries in developing countries, such as India and Ecuador, and keeping up her special needs drama practice after she moved to the US by volunteering in her LA community.
Becoming a mother only reinforced her belief in the importance of activism.
Giving birth to her twins, in particular, heightened her appetite for change. Far different from its near-perfect social media depiction, the experience proved to be a hilarious exercise of patience, chaos, and hope.
"On the internet, there are so many poems and inspirational quotes and women running through fields, breastfeeding... I wanted that for myself because that’s all I knew,” she said. “When my twins were born premature and taken out of my arms and put into incubators, I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I got my nails done, put my eyelashes on, and I’m not even going to get the cute picture in the hospital.’ This whole myth of flawless motherhood came crashing down the moment my kids were born. I had to build my version of it, and I’m still building that version every single day."
The version of motherhood Cruickshank is striving to build is based on authenticity. To her, the world is a messy place — and that's what makes it fascinating. Ultimately, she wants her kids to reflect on the world they live in, encouraging them to show care and empathy for others by leading by example, without imposing judgment or subscribing to an unfair set of rules. She'll pick up trash on the street hoping her kids will follow her lead, or bring them with her as she volunteers at Born to Act Players — a drama program for people with autism and Down syndrome — on Saturday mornings, always with the intention of showing motherhood in all its forms to her audience.
"I think being a mom influencer who presents themselves as perfect should be a criminal offence," Cruickshank said jokingly. "I see my role as being the antithesis of that, to show the reality of how hard and funny it is to be a parent."
More than raising her own family, it's the desire to inspire the next generation of activists that keeps her going — and, as you'd expect, humour is paramount to that effort. For Cruickshank, it's the "number one currency on planet Earth," and, along with giving back, the key to happiness, but she'll happily let go of that when the need for a serious conversation presents itself.
This was the case during the pandemic and at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Cruickshank toned down the comedy to engage in an honest conversation with three Black women — a mother, a child development specialist, and an activist — as part of an episode of her show. The purpose of the episode, she says, was to step out of the limelight to focus on Black voices and experiences, while acknowledging the relative power imbalance and privilege at play.
Her platform also provides a means for women experiencing postpartum depression, infant loss, and more, to share their perspectives in a safe space, free from injunctions or judgement.
She intends to keep using her voice to make a meaningful difference in people's lives.
"I'm not here to say I'm changing the world by putting out reels on the internet, but if I can impact one person who might be having a hard time, then I've done something," she said. "I really want to help use my platform as a woman who’s not afraid to use my voice and speak up, and I want to shout from the rooftops that building an equitable future has to start with us."
The equitable future Cruickshank dreams of is one where everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic background, or ability, has a fair chance to succeed. It's an end goal she believes is possible, and one she plans to keep advocating for as part of her involvement with Global Citizen.
The comedian is particularly passionate about reconciliation with Indigenous communities in Canada and combating climate change and the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls around the world.
Some of these challenges might seem daunting, but she believes that change doesn't have to be as difficult as we make it out to be.
"So much of my work as an activist has been telling people, especially young people, that no matter how old they are, [they] have the power to make a difference in someone's life. Don't be afraid to start small," she says. "It starts with that neighbour down the street. It moves to your school, and it goes to your college campus, community, social media network, and country. When you break it down like that, it seems a little less overwhelming and more achievable."